question time tony abbott
(Image: AAP/Alan Porritt)

I was almost looking forward to Tony Abbott’s book launch last night.

The last time I went to an Abbott event, it was attended by retired supermodel Sarah Murdoch and the Mad Monk’s former “celibacy adviser” Josephine Ul.

Ul was in charge of keeping girls at a safe distance from Tony when he was a trainee priest, a job she described as “very challenging”.

The other reason for going was that it’s always amused me that while Julia Gillard gets to hang out with Michelle Obama and Rihanna at the Brookings Institute, Tony spends his days talking about “climate socialism” to pensioners. Living well really is the best revenge.

The book being launched last night was Abbott: The Defining Speeches. So which ones will be included?

Will it be his 1994 maiden speech, where he said “May God and the ghosts of great men give me strength”? At the time he said he was very upset about public transport in the electorate, a subject he was still banging on about when he was booted out by the voters of Warringah in 2019. If only he had been in a position to do anything about it.

And will the book include the introduction to the budget he helped create, with Joe “lifters and leaners” Hockey in 2014 — a manifesto so cruel, heartless and unfair that even a Murdoch website called it a “total stinker”.

The previously rancorous crossbench was united in opposition to the document.

And while we’re on greatest hits — in 2017 Abbott called for a “moratorium on new wind farms”, a freeze on the renewable energy target at its level of 15% and the construction of another big coal-fired power station.

“It’s the renewable energy target that’s doing the damage because subsidised unreliable and intermittent power is making base load coal and gas power uneconomic”.

Bless.

In the end, I didn’t go to the launch because the Menzies Research Centre (MRC), the group hosting the event, wouldn’t give Crikey a ticket. We have a policy of not paying for events and the centre wouldn’t waive the $55 entrance fee.

For us it was a matter of principle — but $55 for an organisation? What could be the problem?

I decided to check out why the MRC was so cheap. A quick ASIC search revealed its latest accounts which indicated the Centre — the Liberal Party’s “think tank” — is running at a loss. For the financial year to June 30 2019, it reported a total deficit of $8,552.

Now, no one expects organisations of this type to be huge money-makers. But it’s a bit rich that an organisation which is constantly lecturing Australians about fiscal responsibility can’t even get its own accounts into the black.

If you’re going to pump out papers on tax reform and government “red tape”, you’d at least work out how to make it pay.  

In the accounts, there’s a phrase which now rings a loud bell for all journalists: “grant income”.

But the accounts are confusing — did an intern draw them up? The figure for “grant income” is reported as being $238,000 on page nine and $184,481 on page 17.

So I sent off a quick question. “Could you please tell me which is correct and also the source of these grants?”

According to MRC executive director (and journalist) Nick Cater, the grant comes from the Department of Finance. Sometime in the late ’90s, then PM John Howard decided to re-allocate money which had previously been paid to Labor think-tanks, and pay part of it to the MRC.

Cater did point out that the MRC was “a fraction of the size” of its ideological stablemates, the IPA and the CIS.

“We don’t get any mining money, unfortunately, or tobacco money. Most of it are small donations from individuals.”

I can understand why Cater is currently thinking about money. Along with the Nine Network, last November Cater was hit with one of the country’s biggest defamation payouts after the two were found to have defamed Toowoomba’s Wagner family following the 2011 Lockyer Valley floods. The two parties were found jointly liable for a $3.6 million payout to the family.

So I didn’t get to go to City Tatts in Sydney last night and hang out with Tony, the MRC, and all their fans — most of whom come from Tony’s current power base at the Queenscliff Surf Club.

Having been unable to receive a copy of the book, I can’t confirm whether Tony has had anything new to say for the past 30 years.

But I am thinking of getting some new notepaper printed with the words “May God and the ghosts of great men give me strength”. That has a ring to it.

Peter Fray

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